A Riddle for Internal Liberation
Updated: Aug 14
Here’s a riddle for you:
What feels natural (even necessary), changes your every action, and is often out of sight?
Answer: a desire to please others.
It feels natural to mold to our social circle.
And when the relationships are more established and lengthy, it can even feel necessary.
After all, how else could we maintain those friendships if not through compromise?
That compromise is also what changes our every action, and it’s so subtle that it’s often entirely out of sight.
This article is about unpacking that desire to please, the desire to fix ourselves, and remembering that underneath it all is a person that’s worth expressing:
Again, that desire to please can feel incredibly natural.
But underneath that desire is a lingering feeling that something is off about us that needs to be fixed.
Is that really true?
That’s what we’re really here to unpack.
Because that odd feeling that we need to fix ourselves tends to run fairly unconsciously.
It’s convinced that the best way to fix this urgent matter is by looking around to what others think, have, and do, that we don’t think, have, or do.
If we can find the differences between ourselves and others, we can find what’s wrong with us.
On paper, it sounds so silly, that it’s almost hard to believe that something like that could ever captivate our awareness.
But it’s rarely spelled out that plainly.
The thing we need to fix is not something specific like, “I need $50k in savings, a stylish wardrobe, and the ability to hold a conversation about politics for longer than 5 minutes.”
No, it’s an ever-moving target.
It’s a feeling.
In practice, it’s not always obvious when the very list we’ve been chasing for months suddenly updates the destination upon our arrival.
But suddenly, “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” and we’ve always needed $150k in savings.
The feeling persists.
There’s a lot of talk about striving, overwork, and happiness, but these ideas seem to fall short of describing what’s really taking place here.
It’s not that our desire for $150k is our “overly striving,” so we need to learn to be happy with the $50k.
In truth, it has nothing to do with the money at all. It’s about the entire mechanism that silently wrote that list in the first place.
It’s the desire to please.
And maybe even deeper, it’s the impossibly untrue idea that there’s something wrong with us in the first place.
“To truly please others, we must also fix our broken selves.”
The desire to please is a subtle pull, but still, somehow, it manages to govern our very being.
To find it is actually quite easy, if you know where to look:
What’s something you believe to be true, that you wouldn’t dare post on social media?
And if you were to film a 10 minute video saying that thing, and all the other things you couldn’t say, who are the people that would get most angry?
Sometimes it can take a moment to answer those questions, but often we know exactly what we’re not saying and exactly “who” is stopping us from saying that thing.
But of course, it’s never really been about those people either.
The closer you look, the less logical this entire mechanism really is.
Shouldn’t it be simple to be ourselves in the world, and shouldn’t it be obvious when we’re choosing to be something else for no good reason?
But it’s rarely simple and almost never obvious.
That desire to please runs so smoothly and consistently in our psyches, we actually start to believe that it’s who we are.
We’re just the kind of person that believes that “Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia,” despite what our own truth may really be.
“I’m a people pleaser. I’m working on it though.”
But what’s hilariously (and painfully) contradictory about that idea is that “trying to work on it” is the very same mechanism that “people pleases.”
The people pleasing isn’t about people at all.
It’s about the feeling that we need to alter who we are to be okay and to be accepted.
There are two main paths out of this mechanism.
One works, and one sounds good.
Here’s what sounds good:
“Try to stop people pleasing and stand up for yourself.”
It sounds good, because it’s direct and to the point.
But it doesn’t work, because you’re only adding to the list of things wrong with you that you have to fix in order to be enough.
You can’t use a shame mechanism to overcome a shame mechanism.
It’s just prioritizing one shame response over another. Now, “I need to stop people pleasing, THEN have $150k in savings, a closet full of the latest Gucci, and the ability to hold a conversation about politics for 15 minutes.”
There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s something else entirely.
Now, here’s what works:
Settle into the uncomfortable truths.
“I built a life from a character I thought people wanted me to be. So in some weird way, the people I’m afraid of offending don’t know me to begin with.”
“I’ve convinced myself that there was something wrong with me, but all it’s done is make me less of myself. I’ve compromised and pretended it was the only way.”
“Who am I really?”
“If I be that person, some acquaintances who I’ve placated with niceties won’t like it. We may not actually agree about much at all, and that’s really crappy.”
“If I be that person, I’ll have to face all of the reasons why I ever placated in the first place and choose something else.”
“My life will undoubtedly change, and change can be uncertain and scary.”
There’s no reason to add people pleaser to a list of ailments and add another psychological pill to the daily regimen.
At least, not if we’re willing to face the harder truths.
What if you didn’t have to filter yourself?
Your social circle would very likely change.
But what if that wasn’t a bad thing?
What if this entire mechanism relied on perceived consequences that were actually a massive blessing in disguise?
Losing everyone and everything isn‘t real.
But ending friendships that aren’t supportive of who you actually are?
That’s very likely, and it’s not a bad thing.
When we build a life on a character and decide to stop playing that character, things inevitably change.
But what changes is always beneficial in the long term.
It’s not about flipping off your boss and stressing about your finances for the next 30 days while scrambling to find a job that supports you and cursing that blog you read on The Second Paradigm that one time that urged you to always trust yourself even in the discomfort.
It’s about recognizing that some aspects of life are only here because it was far easier to pretend we liked them or pretend we were okay with compromising our values and our truth.
In that recognition, we can start making smooth and steady choices when the opportunities arise (and they always do).
It’s not about scrambling to “fix“ the life we built on a scramble to fix something else that never needed fixing to begin with.
It’s about slowly making different choices when they arise, the same way we always have.
The mechanism that brought us to a life of compromise is swapped with a new mechanism that gives us the courage to say, do, and choose what’s true for us.
That’s the slow and steady “embodiment” of who we truly are.
That’s the path out.